When does aggressive become offensive..?

08 Feb

Yesterday I facilitated a half-day workout session with a client’s Leadership Team and it was, for me at least, an interesting session. The challenge I had before the start of the session was what posture/style was I going to take, in my role as facilitator?

Now a facilitator can approach a situation in many styles and each style will provide a different outcome. Using talk shows as an example, there is Hard Talk on BBC where they go on the offense from the start leaving the interviewee very little wiggle room. Then there is Oprah at the other extreme which is all empathy and really highlights each persons strengths. Somewhere in between is Larry King who is intellectually provocative and Jay Leno who is provocative in a naughty sort of way and highly entertaining.

My general rule of thumb in choosing a style has been:
a. If a client is doing very well, performance wise, and now wants to lift the game by focusing on the leadership team, I go for the Oprah style which allows each member to speak and I accentuate the strength of each person. The goal is to get each member to see the strengths of every other member.
b. If a client has the potential to be doing very well but are not reaching their potential then I go with the Larry King / Hardtalk, mirror in your face style, as it really gets people shifting in their seats with discomfort. The goal is to wake people up and believe or not, to wake up you need discomfort.

Coming back to my session, having reviewed all the notes I had of the client, I decided to go for the “mirror in your face approach.” This is always a very – very high risk strategy as it is a very fine line between being aggressive and being offensive. More so, I am told, that because the audience are Malaysians, you have to treat them delicately and gently…
Well, yesterday’s session was probably my most “in-your-face” session ever. I really had to psych myself up and keep going for 4 hours. Partly its because I see this client as a client with so much unrealized potential, partly because I see the people themselves as very capable but somehow the combination of potential and capability is not producing explosive results.

I was giving the group strong doses of “brutal truths” to really getting people emotionally charged. In driving change I always say you need to be emotionally charged and it doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative emotions. But without emotions, people don’t move. And there is no better way to get people charged up but by getting them to reflect on themselves.

Participation was quite good and one participant in particular asked, what I considered, the 64 million dollar question – which had to do with evaluating performance. I must say the intelligence and depth of the question was impressive. She obviously was connecting the dots.
At the end of the workout I was observing people, and the way people leave a conference room does tell a lot of what happened in it. I had a couple of people come up and say it was a good session and I also had a few who came with that “How dare you…..” looks.
I hope I stayed on the right side of the aggressive line as it doesn’t take much to cross over into offensive….

Oh yes, aggressive turns into offensive when the facilitator looses sight of his role and instead of helping, he is hurting, instead of sincerity there is malice…. Unfortunately, it is not what the facilitator believes his style is, but it is how the participants, individually perceive it.

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Posted by on February 8, 2007 in Transformation


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